“I Have a Voice:” Uniting the Spasmodic Dysphonia Community Through Song

From October 7-11, 2021, the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA) is holding their 2nd annual Walk for Talk fundraiser to help raise awareness around, and funds for, spasmodic dysphonia, a chronic voice disorder. During the fundraiser, the NSDA will feature a song called “I Have a Voice.” Initially, the song grew out of a desire from Mary Bifaro, a NSDA support leadership network volunteer director, who wanted to see the community united in song. According to Hotty Totty News, the song itself was created by slide guitarist Wendy Jean Garrison with help from songwriter Grace Askew.

“I Have a Voice”

Throughout her life, Wendy Jean Garrison has always been drawn to music. In 1987, she moved from Maryland to Mississippi to build a home and a life with her husband. She received her PhD in Biology from the University of Mississippi and later became a professor. During this time, she met Walter Liniger, who influenced her interests in rhythm and blues. By 1996, Wendy was joining in and playing with bands like High Water Mark and creating soundtracks that can be played at festivals and on television.

Then, around 2005 or 2006, Wendy began noticing a change within herself. It was more difficult to speak, her voice weak and strangled. Eventually, Wendy was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia. Now, she still speaks through her music; each note from her acoustic guitar gives insight into her emotions, her passion.

Writing a Song about Spasmodic Dysphonia

Wendy found a community within NSDA. As many people within the rare disease and chronic illness community know, having a community can be supportive, affirming. In addition to performing at a NSDA national meeting, Wendy also offers support to those in her areas and others touched by spasmodic dysphonia.

So, in line with Mary Bifaro’s desires, Wendy joined forces with Grace Askew to write and produce “I Have a Voice.” Prior to working together, Grace admits that she had never before heard of spasmodic dysphonia. However, writing the song was not only a way to get involved and support this community, but to raise awareness. Within the song, the lyrics represent some of the isolating nature of having a voice disorder or feeling as though you don’t have a voice. Others explain how touching and important it can be to find a community that cares. For example, the NSDA lists the lyrics, some of which read:

I have a voice, a reason to rejoice / but I wanna swallow my words, when the hollowness hurts. But I don’t wish on lucky stars ’cause I’ve found that I’m not alone; finally I’m building a place to call home, I was never alone.

To listen to the full version of “I Have a Voice,” click here.

Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD)

Spasmodic dysphonia is a neurological disorder affecting muscles in the voice box (larynx). Patients experience involuntary spasms which affect vocal cord vibration and speech. While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, some doctors believe that it results from central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction. Having a cold or the flu, being stressed, or injury to the larynx may also trigger spasmodic dysphonia to occur; it may also be inherited. Although this condition can affect people of all ages, as well as both males and females, it is most common in females between ages 30-50. This is a lifelong condition, although severity varies.

There are three main forms of spasmodic dysphonia:

  • Adductor. Within this most common form, involuntary spasms cause the vocal cords to stiffen and close. Stress may worsen spasms. Patients with this form may experience strained speech. However, spasms often do not happen if someone speaks while breathing in, speaks at a high pitch, sings, whispers, or laughs.
  • Abductor. Within this form, these spasms cause the vocal cords to open. Since vocal cords can’t vibrate while open, patients are unable to make much noise. Speech sounds weak, breathy, and quiet. However, spasms do not occur during laughing or singing.
  • Mixed. This is the most rare form and blends symptoms from both of the above.

While some affected individuals may only struggle with certain words, others with this condition are fully unable to speak.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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